Did you know that mint is technically a weed? We figured this out years ago when my late mother-in-law Valerie planted some small mint plants along the entry leading to their side door. Within a couple of years, the flower beds along entire side of the house had literally been taken over by the mint. On the bright side, the approach to their door smelled amazing!
To prevent my two mint plants from spreading out of control, I planted them in the built-in planters that flank the stairs leading down from our back patio. Two years later, they have stayed somewhat contained, and if they get out of control I just pull some of the runners out. In these planters, the mint peacefully coexists with the Basil and Rosemary, and they make up my personal herb garden that is close enough to the kitchen that I actually use it.
Even though contained, the mint is prolific. We use it in iced tea, Tabouli salad, mint-basil pesto, and the occasional Mojito, but it is hard to stay ahead of this herb…I mean weed. Mint as long been known to have many health benefits as well as adding flavor to cooking. Mint tea is great for settling the stomach and is also said to increase stamina and resistance to colds and coughs. Its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties are perhaps one of the reasons it is so effective in toothpastes and mouth washes.
So armed with my over abundance of mint, I started to think of other uses, and came up with this summery fresh salad that I hope you will like. It incorporates the ingredients of a Mojito (minus the rum), tastes great, and is easy to prepare. To begin, make a simple syrup by placing one part sugar and one part water in a small saucepan. Unless you need simple syrup for some other use such as making sweet tea, I would suggest 1/4 cup of water and 1/4 cup of sugar for this salad. Warm mixture on medium heat until the sugar is melted and the mixture is clear. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
Next, prepare the fruit of your choice by washing and cutting into bite-size pieces. Some good choices might be watermelon, cantaloupe, and honey dew melons. Blueberries, strawberries and kiwi also work well, as do apples, and soft fruits such as peaches or apricots. Basically, the sky is the limit; just use fruit that looks good and that your family likes. I also try to create a variety of colors, which is why I love the addition of kiwi and blueberries for the pop of color they bring to the other fruits. Place all cut-up fruit in a large bowl and refrigerate. For an added shortcut, you can purchase already-cutup fruit in the produce department of your grocery store. In a measuring cup, juice 1/2 of a fresh lime, or use 3 Tbsp. bottled lime juice. Add the lime juice to the cooled simple syrup. If using the fresh lime, before cutting and juicing, zest the rind and add to the simple syrup for added flavor.
Just before serving, toss fruit with enough lime/simple syrup mixture to coat. One benefit of the lime juice at this point is that it helps keep fruits such as bananas, from turning brown. Next, cut and rinse fresh mint leaves. Chop in a chiffonade style, rolling them like a Cuban cigar and cutting from end to end creating ribbons. Add 1/4-1/3 cup, depending on how large the salad is. Add the mint to the fruit salad and toss to coat. For a garnish, you can use wedges of lime and sprigs of mint to drive home the inspiration. Serve and enjoy!
**Note: Since this was my first time making the Mojito Fruit Salad, I learned something. Next time, I will muddle or mince the mint, rather than the chiffonade. The course texture of mint tastes better in small pieces, and by making more cuts or muddling with a mortar and pestle, more of the aromatic oils are released. The other thing I thought of later is that if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making a simple syrup and lime juice mixture, you can purchase a Mojito mix, found in most grocery stores, and use 1/4 cup, along with the fresh chopped mint, to dress the salad**
This Mojito Fruit Salad is a perfect item for a potluck or picnic, as well as a light side dish for a summer BBQ. It would also go extremely well with a Cuban menu, by paying homage to the Mojito’s origins. When I made this salad the other day, it was over 100 degrees outside, and we had 6 young people swimming in our pool. I took the salad out for them to enjoy and it was gone in no time. If you have mint that is growing like a weed, this salad would be a cool and minty recipe to add to your arsenal. For us, I think it will become a summertime family favorite!